HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – As feared and menacing as Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis has been over the years, he’s always had this soft spot for people with an extraordinary personal story.
Even more, Lewis has an affinity for those driven to get the most out of their God-given ability.
It’s no wonder he was drawn to Texans running back Arian Foster. There may not be another player in the NFL who has a more compelling story of overcoming despair and proving detractors wrong and then rising from the undrafted ranks to being among the best at his position.
“He is driven by a different burning inside,” Lewis said of Foster during a Wednesday teleconference with Houston media. “He was an undrafted guy with a lot of talent. So he is fueled by something different. Anytime you add that kind of fuel with talent you get Arian Foster.”
Because of that one of the most unlikely bonds has been formed between two men who are programmed to be natural combatants on the football field.
Lewis, a 16-year veteran and future Hall of Famer, is well skilled at punishing and putting the fear of God into running backs. Foster is one of the best in the business at neutralizing intimidating linebackers with his speed and drop-of-the-dime cutback abilities.
So it had to be a little strange during the second quarter of last season’s Texans-Ravens game when Lewis took the time to commend the young back who would become the NFL rushing champion in 2010.
“I always appreciate people effort,” Lewis recalled, “so when I walked up to him I told him `Son, I love the way you play this game. You have a very very bright future.’”
To fully appreciate the initial shock Foster had to be feeling at the moment Lewis grabbed him to express his admiration you would probably have to be a running back who has had the daunting pleasure of having Lewis beating down on you.
Foster didn’t know what to say. After all this was the irreverent Ray Lewis heaping praise on him.
“It was still my first year of playing and I was having a little bit of success, but he didn’t have to do that,” Foster recalled Wednesday following the Texans preparation for Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff game against the Ravens. He did it and it was kind of surreal so the whole game was kind of `Ray Lewis just said … ‘’’
As it turns out it was the beginning of a friendship that is build on mutual respect and admiration for each other. They first got a chance to really talk during last year’s Pro Bowl. Then they really connected while sitting on the steps following the ESPY’s.
Foster gave up some of his story. Lewis in return imparted some wisdom.
“We kind of just bonded,” Foster said. “We just sat outside and relaxed and just chopped it up for a good couple of hours. Those kind of moments are priceless to me. He’s just a great human spirit. Anytime you can be around people like that who inspire you that’s what life is about being inspired.”
Now the two either talk or text each other quite regularly.
Lewis, who has become more Uncle Ray Ray than the ultimate intimidator, seems to have taken Foster under his wing much the way he has other players around the league.
“He’s one of my next young ones,” Lewis said. “Whatever I can do for him I’m going to do for him.
“That is one of things I just kind of got caught with his humility and who he is as a young man and the things that drive him. When you get into his story and really listen to his story it’s almost remarkable for a young man to go through all the things he’s been through and still be here today.”
Hearing such high praise from Lewis is more affirmation that all Foster had to endure as a youngster in Albuquerque, N.M. and the up and down career at Tennessee followed by not being drafted was worth it.
Not only is Lewis the benchmark for great defensive players, he is among the most universally respected players in the league.
“For him to say that is kind of like vindication for everything that I have worked for,” Foster said. “Just to be respected by your peers but not just your peer but one of the greatest defensive players to ever play the game.”
Still it just seems unnatural for two people programmed to be odds to have such a bond. Foster couldn’t disagree more.
“We both have a job to do but I think we both respect each other’s game,” he said. “We both admire each other as people and what we try to do it off the field and how we handle ourselves on the field.”